Rolling, hopping robots discover Earthly analogs of distant planets


Earlier than we ship any planet-trotting robotic to discover the panorama of Mars or Venus, we have to check it right here on Earth. Two such robotic platforms being developed for future missions are present process testing at European Area Company amenities: one which rolls, and one which hops.

The rolling one is definitely on the books to go to the Purple Planet as a part of the ESA’s Mars 2020 program. It’s just wrapped a week of testing in the Spanish desert, simply one in all many Mars analogs the house program makes use of. It appears to be like good. The gravity’s just a little totally different, in fact, and there’s a bit extra ambiance, but it surely’s shut sufficient to check a number of issues.

The staff controlling Charlie, which is what they named the prototype, was doing so from tons of of miles away, within the U.Ok. — not fairly an interplanetary distance, however they did in fact assume to simulate the delay operators would encounter if the rover had been truly on Mars. It will even have a ton extra devices on board.

Exploration and navigation was nonetheless executed solely utilizing data collected by the rover by way of radar and cameras, and the rover’s drill was additionally put to work. It rained in the future, which is very unlikely to occur on Mars, however the operators presumably pretended it was a mud storm and rolled with it.

One other Earth-analog check is scheduled for February in Chile’s Atacama desert. You may be taught extra concerning the ExoMars rover and the Mars 2020 mission here.

The opposite robotic that the ESA publicized this week isn’t theirs however was developed by ETH Zurich: the SpaceBok —  you understand, like springbok. The researchers there assume that hopping round like that well-known ungulate might be a great way to get round on different planets.

It’s good to roll round on secure wheels, positive, but it surely’s no use once you wish to get to the far facet of some boulder or descend right into a ravine to take a look at an attention-grabbing mineral deposit. SpaceBok is supposed to be a extremely secure leaping machine that may traverse tough terrain or stroll with a standard quadrupedal gait as wanted (nicely, regular for robots).

“This isn’t significantly helpful on Earth,” admits SpaceBok staff member Elias Hampp, however “it might attain a top of 4 meters on the Moon. This might permit for a quick and environment friendly manner of shifting ahead.”

It was doing some testing at the ESA’s “Mars Yard sandbox,” just a little pen full of Mars-like soil and rocks. The staff is wanting into enhancing autonomy with higher imaginative and prescient — the higher it might probably see the place it lands, the higher SpaceBok can stick that touchdown.

Interplanetary missions are very a lot in vogue now, and we might quickly even see some non-public journeys to the Moon and Mars. So even when NASA or the ESA doesn’t determine to take SpaceBok (or some equally inventive robotic) out into the photo voltaic system, maybe a beneficiant sponsor will.


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